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The theme of Harper Lee s To Kill a Mocking Bird is the existence of racism and prejudice in the 1930 40 s. Harper Lee succeeds in presenting the topic in a manner that is not overly simplistic and thus achieves the task of allowing the reader to fully appreciate the complex nature of unjust discrimination. Harper Lee s inclusion of characters such as Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, Dolphus Raymond and many others, aid the reader to grasp the concept of racism and its central role in the town of Maycomb.
To Kill a Mocking Bird is narrated retrospectively from the view of Scout, the daughter of Atticus Finch a lawyer of Maycomb, and younger sister of Jem. The informal vocabulary of the narration is still good enough to suggest it is spoken from the view of an adult Scout, (looking back at her childhood) but is casual enough to be understood by most readers.
Maycomb s racist attitude in To Kill a Mocking Bird is fueled by the events which occurred soon after World War I. After a devastating stock market crash, many employers lost a substantial amount of money and therefore could hardly afford to hire staff. Many resorted to buying slaves; it was cheap and required little responsibility on their part. This event led to the employment of Negroes. The Industrial revolution did not occur in South America since it was only logical to simply buy slaves rather than expensive machinery. The civil war soon followed, and declared that Negroes were no longer considered slaves and if they were unhappy with work conditions they could leave. Few did, since jobs were already dangerously scarce and by about 1930 racism toward blacks was obvious. Negroes were accused of stealing the jobs of white people and this led to a system of separate public transport, schools and even drinking fountains.
To Kill a Mocking Bird expresses the racist attitudes of Maycomb most dominantly in the court case involving Tom Robinson (who s lawyer is Atticus Finch) and Mayella Eule. The trial makes blatantly obvious to the reader that Tom Robinson, the black man accused of rape is innocent and yet the jury finds him guilty. It also establishes that Mayella was actually beaten by her father and although the evidence that points to this occurrence is circumstantial, it is made perfectly clear. The court case also clarifies to the reader the frightful nature and obvious abundance of racism within the small town of Maycomb. This event is undeniably the central plot of the novel.
Harper Lee makes a point involving unjust prejudice through the inclusion of a white man, Boo Radley. Boo is the misunderstood hermit of Maycomb and is the target of a multitude of harsh and unnecessary town gossip. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants and resumed his activities is the narrative formulated by Stephanie Crawford, a neighbor of the Finch s. It is true to say that this is not an example of Maycomb s racism, though it does help to demonstrate Maycomb s ignorance of those that are different. It is then important to note that it is Boo Radley that saves Jem and Scout Finch from the evil hands of another white man Bob Eule, and in turn earns the respect of Atticus Finch and the Maycomb mayor.
Other subplots which feature in Harper Lee s novel are those such as the inclusion of the supposed alcoholic, Dolphus Raymond is a perfect example of the existence of racism in Maycomb. As Mr. Dolphus was an evil man, I accepted his invitation reluctantly states Scout as she approaches the man. Scout s statement makes obvious the initial misconceptions many people have regarding Negroes, since Harper Lee does not in any way suggest to the reader that Dolphus Raymond is an angry or violent person. Chapter 20 establishes that Dolphus reasoning for appearing to be an alcoholic is so that he may himself escape the judgement of the town. He explains to Scout and Jem that he sips at his Coca-Cola so that the town will associate a reason with the man s unaccepted lifestyle. In reply to Jem s following statement of That ain t honest, Mr. Raymond , Dolphus Raymond replies with, It ain t honest but it s mighty helpful to the folks and continues with, they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that s the way I want to live. Dolphus Raymond does well to make the point that his escape from the intolerance and ignorance of Maycomb is achieved by making himself appear to be under the clutches of alcohol.
It is only fitting then, that the main inclusion of tolerance and acceptance of all races in the novel is spoken by a coloured woman, Calpurnia, the housemaid of Atticus Finch, at a Negro church to Atticus children. When the children question Calpurnia as to why she speaks differently to blacks than to whites, her explanation is as follows, Suppose you and Scout talked coloured-folks talk at home it d be out of place wouldn t it? Now what if I talked white-folks talk at church, and with my neighbors? They d think I was puttin on airs to beat Moses. Though the statement appears straightforward it does hold deeper connotations. It expresses her acceptance of different races and this view is also held by most of the members of the church as they accept the children into their mass.
Harper Lee succeeds distinctively in demonstrating racism and prejudice as a central part of Maycomb culture and does well to provide the reader with reasons as to why this is so. Though it is true to say that the trial of Tom Robinson features dominantly, it is ignorant to suggest that Harper Lee dwelled on this event as he did much to ensure a variety of situations which make his feelings on racism evident.
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